Prescriptions of antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs have risen 26 per cent since 2007 and cost the NHS more than £1 billion, a study by the Co-operative Pharmacy has found.
The study, conducted across 150 primary care trusts in England and published last week, found that in 2010-11 49.8 million items were prescribed, up from 39.5 million items in 2007-08. The biggest rise was in the East Midlands, where dispensing of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs rose by more than 40 per cent.
Depression Alliance chief executive Emer O'Neill blamed the rise on the deteriorating economic climate since 2007. "These uncertain economic times are linked to an increase in the number of people with the illness," she said.
The Co-operative Pharmacy's study also found that, despite increased dispensing of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs, costs to the NHS have fallen – down 12 per cent from almost £291 million in 2007-08 to £258 million in 2010-11 – as the health service achieves better value for money on prescription items.
"Our research has shown that the NHS is getting greater value for money," said Mandeep Mudhar, NHS business director at the Co-operative Pharmacy. "But, worryingly, prescription items have risen at an alarming rate - up 26 per cent in just four years."
Ms Neill stressed the importance of talking to a GP or pharmacist as a first step in getting help. "It is important to speak to a healthcare professional such as your GP or pharmacist who can help you to find the best way forward," she said. "For every person diagnosed with depression there are many more who suffer in silence."
For all you need to know about diagnosing and advising on treatment for depression, see C+D's update module 1567.
The information in the Co-operative study was obtained using a freedom of information request. Full NHS prescribing data can be found here.